People often ask me how I chose the seven cities I am visiting this summer. My formal answer for research purposes is that my study cities are large, metropolitan areas where local stakeholders have made significant investments into food security and/or local food systems. In less formal circumstances, I state the previous plus explain how I sent literally hundreds of emails to professors, researchers, politicians, business owners, and local food network organizers in cities worldwide last fall. I decided to visit the cities in which I had confirmed key research contacts.
Furthermore, one reason I chose my research topic/love it so much is because sustainable food systems, food security, people eating, etc. are truly universal topics. Which meant that my choice of cities in which I could study these topics and acquire critical insight was essentially limitless. I visited Budapest for three days last summer and thought it was an incredible gorgeous, lively, and interesting city. And, I seem to have found myself in Budapest again! I’ve been here for a few days now, and each time I walk out of my Airbnb I can’t help but be impressed by the gorgeous architecture that surrounds me. Or drawn in by the endless restaurants with lovely outdoor seating or abundant green spaces to stroll through.
So, somehow I’ve been managing alright here even though the first two days here were a bit slow in regards to my research—in fact, Monday was the first weekday of my trip thus far that I haven’t conducted any interviews. Yet by visiting markets, happening upon food-related conversations with locals, and of course, eating lots, I’ve still already become immersed in the developing trends of local and sustainable food culture.
Primarily urban intellectuals have initiated the development of neo-liberal local food systems—such as community supported agriculture (CSA) and buying groups—within Budapest in the past decade. While these, and other progressive, forms of local food systems are developing rapidly, they have yet to be significantly ingrained into Hungary’s major food supply chains. In contrast, traditional short food supply chains, like farmers’ markets and market halls, have been continuously prevalent in Hungary’s recent history.
Benedek & Balázs (2016) eloquently sum up the fascinating background and current context of LFS development in Hungary. This paper–and Bálint Balázs’s incredible unprecedented help with my research–was principle in my decision to visit Budapest (along with my love of the city, of course).
“The patterns and processes of LFS development in transition countries are particularly remarkable as they are not necessarily comparable to what is experienced in the US or Western Europe (Jehlička, Kostelecký, & Smith, 2013; Jehlička & Smith, 2011). Retail revolution in Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries is considered to have happened extremely fast (Dries, Reardon, & Swinnen, 2004; Swinnen & Maertens, 2007), which resulted in additional difficulties when small-scale farmers attempted to join modern food distribution channels (Bakucs, Fertő, & Szabó, 2012). Moreover, the rate of food self-provisioning is higher (Jehlička & Smith, 2011); it has a double role as a survival strategy and a recreational activity (Alber & Kohler, 2008; Jehlička et al., 2013; Mincyte, 2011). Still, semi-subsistence farming often gets little emphasis in the sustainable development reforms in the European Union (EU) new member states (Mincyte, 2011). This paper focuses on Hungary, where the dominant traditional forms of short food supply (sensu Kneafsey et al., 2013), such as farmers’ markets, market halls and farm shops, are overdependent on public investments for their sustainable operation, while neo-traditional forms (box schemes, webshops, community supported agriculture (CSA) schemes and buying groups) reached a rudimentary success in urban and peri-urban areas (Balázs, 2012; Réthy & Dezsény, 2013).”
Today, Budapest residents buy about five percent of their food from markets, rather than supermarkets. Furthermore, Budapest residents generally prefer to buy their fresh foods, like produce, dairy products, and meat, from markets rather than supermarkets. The popularity of short food supply chains (markets) in Budapest has two major implications for my own research in Budapest:
1. Prominent, normalized local food systems in Budapest (markets) set the background for the current development of more alternative LFS, such as conscious purchasing groups and urban food production.
2. On days when I don’t have any interviews scheduled, I spend my time exploring the city’s many markets, gawking at perfect, primary-colored piles of tomatoes and paprika.
There are three main types of markets in Budapest: market halls, farmers’ markets, and organic markets. The construction of Budapest’s first five historic market halls began at the end of the 19th century prompted by city officials’ goals to have more sanitary, better controlled markets than the unsecured open-air markets that previously dominated the city’s market scene. Over 100 years later, these markets have assumed a key role in supplying local food to Budapest restaurants and households and supplying food and fun to tourists. The halls are filled with retailers’ stands (and a few select stands for producers), who sell everything from fruits and vegetables, to meat and dairy products, to wine and chocolate. The Central Market hall is by far Budapest’s most popular market. While it is touristy by nature (giant and gorgeous), during my own visits there, I’ve been excited to find the swarms of people with sneakers and fanny packs intermixed among Hungarian-speakers making their weekly produce rounds.
Farmers markets are another traditional local food network in Hungary. By law, producers in Hungarian cannot travel more than forty kilometers to sell their products at a farmers’ market. That government-defined, specific definition of local food in Hungary has made my universal interview question, “How would you define a local food system in [your city]?” quite monotonous during my interviews here. Nonetheless, over a dozen markets held weekly throughout Budapest make high quality, affordable, local food accessible to many Budapest residents.
Organic markets are the last main type of market found in Hungary. While there are no restrictions on the locality of producers, every vendor at organic markets must be certified organic. Due to the high cost of organic certification for small producers, many small producers opt to sell at regular farmers’ markets in Budapest, and rely on their relationships with consumers to promote their environmentally-friendly production methods, instead of receive the organic certification. Meanwhile, however, a growing number of specified organic markets in Budapest demonstrate consumers’ increasing preferences towards sustainable food and an increasingly accommodating environment for producers to dedicate greater resources towards environmentally and socially sustainable production methods.
I’m very excited to meet many key stakeholders involved in Budapest’s local food research and community garden scene over the next two weeks! However, I’m also currently quite satisfied with my capacity to explore local food systems and culture not only through formal interviews, but also in markets, through informal conversations, and um… from the food on my plate. So most importantly of course, I look forward to sharing some more food pictures, soon!
 A more research-focused explanation on why I chose to study LFS in Budapest can be found in my next blog post.
 Benedek, Z., & Balázs, B. (2016). Current status and future prospect of local food production in Hungary: A spatial analysis. European Planning Studies, 23(4). Retrieved from Taylor & Francis Online database.
 Balázs, B. (2017, June , C. (2016, October 19). [Personal interview by the author].
 There is an exception to this rule for farmers’ markets In Budapest: producers are permitted to travel more than forty kilometers to sell to Budapest markets, given the city’s great size and purchasing power.